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The Secret Way Policy Creeps Into Political Conventions

There’s a lot you don’t see on TV

Balloons drop after Donald Trump accepts the GOP nomination at the RNC. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Balloons drop after Donald Trump accepts the GOP nomination at the RNC. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Parties, panels and even trivia competitions have filled the off hours in Cleveland and Philadelphia these past two weeks, providing chances for lawmakers, journalists and party bigwigs to mingle. But what are they talking about outside the conventions?  

Good news for wonks: more listed events at both conventions focused on policy and governing than politics, according to a Roll Call review of 189 happenings provided by Federal Information and News Dispatch.  

Though most of the formal events at both parties’ conventions centered on policy, that focus was more pronounced in Cleveland. About half the events Roll Call reviewed at the GOP convention were about policy, while 40 percent at the Democratic convention were focused on policy issues.  

About 35 percent of events in Philadelphia focused on politics, compared to 30 percent of those in Cleveland.  

There is, of course, crossover in what attendees discuss.  

“At the policy breakfast people are talking politics,” said Joshua Stewart, deputy communications director of the Washington-headquartered Sunlight Foundation. “And though we didn’t get into any straight up fundraisers, I would imagine they’re talking policy.”  

The Sunlight Foundation sent staff to both conventions to track what influence special interest groups gain from these events.  

Special interest groups — often with a stake in the issues being discussed — sponsored many policy events. The Alliance for American Manufacturing, for example, was behind a discussion on trade, manufacturing and jobs Monday in Philadelphia.  

CQ Roll Call hosted five of these events on both politics and policy, including discussions on the Internet of things and upcoming campaigns.  

Stewart and his team visited about a dozen events, though there were others they were not allowed into. A video report from NBC also shows a reporter being turned away at some gatherings.  

In addition to the formal events listed, many of which are open to the public, Stewart said happy hours and parties provide opportunities for face time with lawmakers and their staff — what he called the “premium” of these conventions.  

Contact McMinn at or on Twitter @shmcminn

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